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Children in care: complaints to the Ombudsman 2019–2023

Children in care
Peter Boshier
Issue date:

A report identifying the themes emerging from complaints and enquiries made between 2019 and 2023 about Oranga Tamariki.

Excerpt from the Chief Ombudsman's introduction

On 1 May 2023, the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System Act 2022 came into force. With it comes new powers and responsibilities for the Ombudsman to investigate some of the bodies that care for our children/tamariki and young people/rangatahi. In passing this Act, Parliament has shown confidence in my office to see and make things right where they are not.

As Chief Ombudsman, it is a responsibility I take very seriously, which is why I have been preparing for the past four years to take it on.

The Ombudsman in New Zealand has always had the ability to investigate the processes and practices of Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children and its predecessor government departments and ministries.

Since the request was first made by Parliament for my enhanced focus in 2019, I have dealt with more than 2000 complaints and other enquiries about Oranga Tamariki. Complaints and enquiries continue to increase year on year. These have included complaints from tamariki and rangatahi, either directly or through a trusted adult.

From time to time I publish case notes and opinions about complaints, and reports on my self-initiated investigations, where I consider that it is in the public interest. My publications are for Parliament, the public, providers of services for tamariki and rangatahi, and for agencies to learn more about what should be best practice.

Now that I have wider investigative powers to look at complaints about Oranga Tamariki and care or custody providers, the Ombudsman is even more able to help achieve the best outcomes for our children, through identifying issues and lifting good practice.

To provide transparency, and accountability for the organisations involved, I have decided to publish more of my work in this area. In this report are themes I have encountered, case studies and outcomes I have achieved. Outcomes range from accountability and remedies for individuals, to systemic change within Oranga Tamariki.

The nature of the complaints being made, who makes them, the recommendations I make and the response from the organisations involved are all important to help people make decisions about pursuing their rights.

My role as the Chief Ombudsman is to help build trust in our government agencies. Oranga Tamariki is an important agency to keep a large number of tamariki safe when their wellbeing is at risk of harm. However, as I note in my concluding comments at page 80 at the end of this report, I cannot yet provide assurance Oranga Tamariki is consistently operating in accordance with good administrative practice, for a number of reasons.

For Oranga Tamariki to regain the trust it has lost from the people it serves and the wider public, it needs to change on a scale rarely required of a government agency. My challenge to the new Government is to drive this change.

In my conclusion, I provide my view on practice and process improvements that would make a material difference to the numbers of complaints I receive from people about Oranga Tamariki. They include an organisation-wide quality improvement plan, ensuring staff understand and apply legislation and policy, better attention to detail and accurate information in decision making, more training and supervision, regular tracking and reporting, and keeping better records overall.

I chose the whakatauki that begins my introduction because it reflects my past work about Oranga Tamariki in this area, some of which is published within this report.

I am also looking to the future, with these past complaints and investigations behind me, to my wider powers under the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System Act. The complaints and issues that have come to me previously provide a strong base of experience and knowledge on which to build more capability within my office, provide more assurance to complainants, advocates, Parliament and the public, and provide learnings for agencies and organisations.

My hope is that by sharing the experiences of complainants – tamariki, rangatahi, parents, whānau, caregivers – more people will know that the Ombudsman is an office they can trust with their stories.

I mihi to the many people who have picked up the phone, or written an email or letter to me when they needed help to resolve an issue. I also acknowledge my staff for their mahi and the agencies and organisations which care for our tamariki.

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